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Harper reaches out to Layton 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:50 p.m. January 5, 2006]

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper 

OTTAWA  — With his party ahead in most polls, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper spoke on the campaign trail Thursday about possibly working with the NDP if the Conservatives win a minority on January 23.  

"I would hope that they would work with us," Harper said while campaigning in Toronto.

"They saw the wisdom of defeating the present government we have today, so I hope they would see the wisdom of making the next federal government work better."

Harper made the comments after two different polling firms that earlier in the campaign had the Liberals way out ahead now had his party three to six points ahead in the campaign for the first time. 

Although there are still 18 days left in the campaign, some seat projections with the new polling numbers show the Conservatives and NDP would have the combined 155 seats needed to control the House of Commons. 

While campaigning in Winnipeg, NDP Leader Jack Layton said the Conservatives had "very different values" and "wrong ideas" and he was working to defeat as many Conservatives as possible in the election.

"Right now the scenarios I'm working on is to reduce the number of Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc in the House." 

Nonetheless, he would not rule out working with the Tories if it resulted in making Parliament work. 

"What we've done is show we work in Parliament to get results. I don't see anyone disagreeing with that proposition. So I'm going to maintain it." 

Layton also seemed to hold out proportional representation as a bargaining chip with Harper. 

"We haven't heard Mr. Harper taking a position particularly strongly in favour of this issue, so I look forward to what he has to say," Layton said.

All this talk of cooperation is coming a day after Layton, who has been using most of his ammunition against Prime Minister Paul Martin, decided to directly attack Harper.

"The Conservatives want to dismantle the Canadian state. So does the Bloc," Layton told the reporters traveling with him on Wednesday. 

He even suggested that Harper would agree to transfer taxing authority to Quebec in exchange for the support of the Bloc Quebecois, something that would result in Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe being "carried over the border and into Quebec as a hero."

Harper also fought back against those comments while in Toronto Thursday, saying a Conservative government would only respect the jurisdictions of the provinces. 

"That is a very different philosophy than simply handing all kinds of powers to the provinces," Harper said. 

"I want to work with and my emphasis will be to work with the federalist premier of Quebec (Jean) Charest. Mr. Charest is not proposing any kind of massive devolution of federal powers."

Harper also said that it would na´ve to enter into some kind of power sharing arrangement for the benefit of the Bloc. 

"I don't believe for a second that any amount of change that I would ever make to the Canadian federation would satisfy the Bloc Quebecois. They're not going to be satisfied. Our goal is not to satisfy the Bloc."

While the NDP and the Conservatives are on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum in Canadian politics, Harper said the two parties could find common legislative ground on accountability and ethics issues. 

Harper singled out NDP MP Ed Broadbent, who is not running in this election as being "very eloquent, very knowledgeable in these matters."

While Harper was sending positive signals to Layton, the PM seemed to bristle when a reporter asked him in Waterloo if he considered forming some coalition with Layton if necessary in the next Parliament. 

"I'm not going to get into a question about what's going to happen after the election," the PM said. "Obviously we are going to work as hard as we can to elect as many Liberals as we possibly can."

The PM said about Layton that "it is very difficult to understand where he is coming from."

"The other day I'm told that he said the Conservative platform, what the Conservatives stand for is not acceptable to him. But prior to that he had been out there strongly supporting the Conservatives," Martin said.

"We'll have to see where Jack Layton ultimately comes down, as to whether in fact his new-found friendship with Stephen Harper to the degree to which it is going to last."

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